Benedict XVI's first book as pope was a meditation on the Gospels titled Jesus of Nazareth, and last year he convened a synod of bishops entirely devoted to the Bible. For this pope in particular, the places, people and events of the Holy Land are deeply ingrained in both his spirituality and his intellectual interests, making his May 8-15 trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, which opens tomorrow, a long-awaited pilgrimage -- probably the last chance for the 82-year-old pontiff to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
The trip is also, however, a huge roll of the dice.
While most papal activity is highly choreographed and often quite predictable, this is one of those rare ventures where almost anything could happen. The trip could be a smoldering disaster or a stunning triumph. Or, it could be far less dramatic -- little more, perhaps, than a series of polite photo-ops and mushy diplomatic language. It all depends on how things shake out.